October 24th, 2021- He is Calling You

Sermon for Pentecost XXII, 2021, Random Lake                                         10/24/21


Text: Mark 10:46-52, Jeremiah 31:7-9, Hebrews 7:23-28

Introduction                 In one of Flannery O’Connor’s provocative stories, The Lame Shall Enter First, a social worker, named Shepherd, seems like a good man who means well.  A year after his wife’s death, ignoring his grief, he adds to his regular job as the city’s Recreational Director weekly Saturday work at a reformatory. There he meets Rufus Johnson, a highly intelligent fourteen-year-old delinquent with a club foot.  Rufus’ father died before he was born; his mother was in the penitentiary; and he was raised by his grandfather in a shack without water or electricity, and the old man beat him every day.

            Shepherd thinks that he can rehabilitate Rufus.  Shepherd’s own son, Norton, ten-years-old, is in deep grief over the death of his mother.  But Shepherd doesn’t seem to see his son’s need.   Shepherd only sees symptoms—poor eating habits, lack of motivation, and what Shepherd calls “selfishness.”  This social worker dad does not see the emotional and spiritual nutrition that Norton needs. All he can do is criticize.  Shepherd imagines, “If only the intelligent delinquent can be persuaded to live with us after his release from detention, Norton will learn to share.”

            Well, Rufus turns out to be the realist in this proposed ideal family.  Given the key to the family home, he invades the place, treating Norton as a slave and trashing the space once held by his beloved mother.  Do-gooder dad ignores and rationalizes Rufus’ rude and unlawful behavior.  Instead, he gives Norton’s clothes to Rufus, buys him a new shoe to replace the one on Rufus’ club foot. Then Shepherd buys a telescope and mounts it in the attic for the boys to expand their horizons together.

            Ironically, Rufus believes in the Bible and quotes it well, though he considers himself driven by Satan.  Discounting Shepherd’s atheism, Rufus says that the Bible is true, and if any are to be saved, “God must do it.” He convinces Norton that his mother has gone to heaven and can be seen in the telescope.  But one has to die to go there. 

In the tragic ending to the story, Shepherd sees that his plan to change the delinquent’s behavior has failed.  As the police take Rufus away, Shepherd says over and over again, “I have nothing to reproach myself with.  I did more for Rufus than I did for my own child.”  [Repeat]

            Suddenly the truth dawns on Shepherd, who failed to live up to his name.  He races up to Norton’s room to start caring for him.  Finding his son’s room empty, he dashes up the attic stairs where the telescope is focused on the heavens, only to find Norton hanging in the shadows.  Shepherd sees that his son  has gone through death to be with his mother.

            Even a good person with good intentions, but self-absorbed, can be blind to the truth.  Yet none of us needs to be blind forever.  Like blind Bartimaeus, we can call out in faith for sight.  Today, we pray that God would help each of us to hear that GOD IS CALLING YOU.

I           The man in Mark’s Gospel had one advantage over Shepherd.  He knew that he was blind.  Bartimaeus son of Timaeus sat as a beggar by the road outside of Jericho.  But he saw what the disciples and crowds did not see.  He saw who was passing by.  He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!.”   Bartimaeus trusted that Jesus could help him to see,  so that he could participate more fully in the community.  For in those days, people thought a blind man was a special sinner, unclean and unworthy of fellowship.  [Blind persons were not allowed in the synagogue or temple.]  So, those, blind to their own need and insight, sternly ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

            Blessed are we when we see our need for mercy.  We may operate as if we were always right.  Like a punch in the stomach it has hit me at times, when I realized that I was wrong about something, or that I have neglected the needs of my family, while I was busy doing church work. How could I be so blind?

            I remember a man who came into my office in shock.  He was in his mid -thirties. His house and his farming business was flourishing.  But now his wife was filing for divorce. 

            She had been trying to get through to him in every way she knew how. She went to counseling, lost weight, invited him to face their problems.  “What problems?”  He couldn’t see them.  Now his dreams for the future were going up in flames. Suddenly, he saw that he needed insight and mercy.  But, you know, as I got to know his wife and saw her coming to the Lord’s table, I realized that she too needed.  Has it ever dawned on you that you have been blind to something important?

II          Jesus stood still and listened to Bartimaeus. “Call him here,” Jesus ordered.  And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”  I hope that Shepherd heard the call of Jesus after he found Norton in the attic.  As a devout believer herself, I know that Flannery O’Connor would have wanted him and all of the spiritually blind to answer the call of God in Christ Jesus.

             Ah, there is great mercy in God.  Jesus embodied that mercy.  He was the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy that all Israel would see the Lord’s salvation:

            See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,

and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,

among them the blind and the lame…a great company,

they shall return here…I will let them walk by brooks of water,

in a straight path in which they shall not stumble…

            Jesus was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem to complete his mission of salvation.  He saw clearly the needs of all people for healing from their spiritual blindness. He saw clearly his Father’s will to open the eyes of all of us to God’s abundant love that embraces us and calls us forward to a life of selfless service.  Jesus was going the way of the cross for us.

            The writer to the Hebrews saw Jesus as the High Priest whose once-and-for-all sacrifice would bring to us all the insight and mercy we need. The inspired author says of the Son of David:

…he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.  For it is fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.

III         Did you notice what happened when Bartimaeus responded to Jesus’ call?

The beggar confessed his need, “My teacher, let me see again.”  This is a model for us when by grace we see what we are missing.  Perhaps, a friend or spouse or a story reveals our need.  We bring our need for sight and mercy to Jesus.  And he is ready to say, “Go; your faith has made you well.”

            But Bartimaeus did not just raise up a couple of “Hallelujahs.” Mark tells us: “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.  In profound gratitude, Bartimaeus became a disciple, a follower of the Teacher who was demonstrating a life of service and love.

            Discovering that we live by God’s mercy is a wonderful, uplifting reality.  Luther compared it to walking through the gates of paradise.  It was his tower experience.  He began to teach and preach with power.  He wrote publicly with new conviction. Criticized and threatened for opposing erroneous church practices and teachings, Luther found strength in God to stand up boldly for what the Scriptures proclaimed.  He wrote hymns, translated the Bible into the language of the people, promoted education, and affirmed people in their everyday occupations. 

Conclusion      Whenever you discover a blind spot in your life, listen.  Listen hard.  Do you hear Jesus stopping and calling you, inviting you to a healthier life with others?  “Take heart; get up; HE IS CALLING YOU.”

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